Gupta started Empower Orphans at age 9.
By The American Bazaar Staff
WASHINGTON, DC: Indian American teenager Neha Gupta, 18, from Pennsylvania, who attends Penn State University, has won the prestigious International Children’s Peace Prize for her work in helping orphans around the world.
Gupta was given the prize, won by Nobel Laureate Malala Yousafzai last year, by Nobel Peace Laureate Desmond Tutu at a ceremony in The Hague, on Tuesday. The prize is awarded annually to a child, anywhere in the world, for his or her dedication to children’s rights. She is the first American to win the award.
Along with the prize, Gupta was awarded a €100,000 grant, to be used for projects closely associated with her area of dedication.
Gupta was only 9 years old when she set up a charitable organization called Empower Orphans, after visiting her grandparents in India and seeing the miserable conditions in which orphans were raised. On that trip, she celebrated her birthday by donating food to a orphanage in Punjab.
Back home, she decided that she wanted to do more. With the help of her parents, she sold her entire toys at a garage sale at home, and raised $700, which she donated. That was the beginning of her work as a philanthropist and a humanitarian.
Till now, Gupta has raised more than $1.3 million for orphans both in the US, India, and elsewhere around the world. In the process, she has helped more than 25,000 orphans get a better life.
Marc Dullaert, founder of children’s rights organization KidsRights, says Gupta, “discovered at a young age that it is possible to take action as a child and help vulnerable children.”
Last week, in an interview for “This Week,” Gupta remarked to ABC’s Susan Saulny, of that trip to an orphanage in India when she was 9 years old: “The place was just really in shambles. I didn’t want to accept these things. These are things i wanted to fix.”
After selling her toys, Gupta kept going, selling crafts door to door and collecting corporate donations in her dad’s SUV, the report said.
Empower Orphans now helps build classrooms, buy books, equip computer labs, pay for health exams, supply water and buy sewing machines to empower other young women to start their own businesses.
“This sewing machine that i bought for this girl was able to change her life,” Gupta said, showing a picture in an album to ABC. “She went home. She started her own business and she was able to support her entire family.”
Gupta met Yousafzai recently, and the experience was overwhelming for the young philanthropist.
“Honestly, I was about to cry! I felt so happy!” Gupta said.
Gupta has won numerous other awards for her charitable work: National winner of Prudential Spirit of Community Award; National winner of Kohl’s Kids Who Care Award; National winner of NHL All-Star World Changer Award; National winner of Points of Light Make A Difference Day Award; National winner of Nestle’s Very Best in Youth; Coca-Cola Scholar Award; National winner of Caring Award and inducted into the Caring Hall of Fame; Gold Medal for President’s Volunteer Service Award – This includes a certificate and letter from President Obama and a gold lapel pin; winner of Wachovia bank’s Philanthropic Award (“Who Would You Thank”); and winner of 15th Annual Please Touch Museum’s Great Friends to Kids Award.
Gupta is a first-year Schreyer Honors College scholar in the Eberly College of Science and will be entering the pre-medicine program.
“Neha’s leadership, vision and work ethic have helped countless orphaned, abandoned and impoverished children, and most remarkably she was just a child herself when she began this work,” said Penn State President Eric Barron, in a statement. “We’re very proud that she has been recognized with the 2014 International Peace Prize, and hope that this visibility will inspire others to also pursue worthy endeavors to benefit humankind.”
(This story was updated).